A peaceful protest rally at the Central Shaheed Minar on Dhaka University campus on Friday morning against the construction of Rampal power plant turned into a scuffle, which the rally organisers claimed was incited by Bangladesh Chhatra League men.
The organisers claimed that more than 50 protesters were injured during the melee as Chhatra League men swooped on the protesters as soon as the rally kicked off around 10:30am.
Police used water cannon to disperse both the protesters and the Chhatra League men. Organisers also claimed that police personnel treated them rather harshly.
In defence, Shahbagh police station OC Abu Bakar Siddiq told the Dhaka Tribune that neither Chhatra League nor the protest rally orgnisers notified the authorities concerned about their scheduled programmes at the Shaheed Minar premises.
When contacted, Dhaka University Proctor Prof Amzad Ali also said that neither the anti-Rampal protesters nor the Chhatra League demonstrators had notified the university authorities about their programmes beforehand.
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Commoners led by National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources gather ather at the Central Shaheed Minar area on Friday to protest construction of a coal-fired power plant in Sundarban's Rampal area on Friday Collected from eminent photographer Taslima Akhter's Facebook page
Saikat Mallik, president of Bangladesh Student Federation and one of the protesters, told the Dhaka Tribune that the organisers had planned a bicycle rally – titled Bachao Sundarban Cyclist Procession – followed by a gathering at 10:30am at Shaheed Minar.
“But as soon as we reached the campus, we saw the area was already occupied by Chhatra League members,” he said.
Witnesses told the Dhaka Tribune that Chhatra League members waved banners supporting the construction of Rampal power plant and hurled abuses and threats at the protesters.
A number of general students who attended the Chhatra League counter-demonstration admitted that they were forced to participate in the counter-protest by the student wing of the ruling party.
The Chhatra League members herded the protesters on to the Shaheed Minar grounds and created a wall around them, preventing anyone from leaving or entering.
The Rampal protesters, led by Prof Anu Muhammad, tried to exit multiple times but were repelled by Chhatra League every time.
The protesters asked for an open debate between the two parties and were rewarded with even more jeers and violent threats.
Cyclists from around the city were rallying to this spot as well. Police stopped a number of cyclists in Shahbagh, Dhanmondi, Nilkhet, Polashi and Kakrail and seized their bicycles.
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Bikers from different parts of the city gather at Central Shaheed Minar area on Friday to protest construction of a coal-fired power plant in Sundarban's Rampal area Collected from eminent photographer Taslima Akhter's Facebook page
A cyclist was beaten up and his bicycle smashed by Chhatra League members near Dhaka College, organisers told the Dhaka Tribune.
Liton Nandi, president of Bangladesh Student Union, said Chhatra League activists broke an arm of a protester named Ashik.
Samanta Sharmin, coordinator of the protest, confirmed the victim's identity as Hasib Mohammad Ashik, second-year student at the department of Islamic history at Dhaka University.
In a press statement, she further said three of the injured protesters were admitted at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Despite all the earlier setbacks, the protesters managed to rally together at Shaheed Minar and tried one last time to break through the Chhatra League barrier. They placed women, children and the elderly at the forefront and marched onwards. They were attacked from behind as they proceeded towards National Press Club.
They were set upon by police at this point and protesters dispersed in various directions.
“The attack has revealed the moral depravity of the government. They are afraid of our protests and unleashed Chhatra League and police repeatedly on us,” said Prof Anu Muhammad, member secretary of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports.
However, when the Dhaka Tribune contacted the DU wing of Chhatra League, they claimed that no members of the student party was present at the counter-demonstration, and those who participated were general students.
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Bikers from different parts of the city gather at the Central Shaheed Minar area on Friday to protest construction of a coal-fired power plant in Sundarban's Rampal area Collected from eminent photographer Taslima Akhter's Facebook page
Two cyclists detained
Sub-Inspector Shahidur Rahman of Tejgaon police station told the Dhaka Tribune that two cyclists were detained near Farmgate area with Bangladesh flags on suspicion of hand bomb explosions in Shahbagh.
When asked why Tejgaon police arrested them for any alleged incident at Shaheed Minar, he replied that they were just following orders from the Police Headquarters.
The names of the arrestees were not disclosed.